You have fallen in love with sailboats and can't resist the call any longer. I feel ya. The upfront cost is quite something, right? Both in money and skill level. Well, your dream isn't necessarily that far away. Let me show you a few of the best sailboats capable of crossing vast oceans, boats that are beginner-friendly and that won't cost over $25 000.
So what are the best beginner sailboats for ocean cruising?
Cape Dory 28
Let's have a closer look at these. You want to know more about these to pick the right one for you. Read on!
What is a Beginner Boat
Please don't think that just because a boat is labeled here as a 'beginner-friendly' it means that it is lesser in terms of performance or capabilities. It just means that due to the layout, construction, or overall design it is easier to handle and more forgiving.
A good ballast ratio can be an example of that, making the boat stable. A user-friendly cockpit layout where all the lines are within reach from the helm is another example. These things don't decrease performance, they simply increase handling ease.
What is a Cheap Boat
Similarly, don't think a cheap boat is not seaworthy. Seaworthiness is again more about design rather than anything else.
It also doesn't mean you will get a low-quality boat. Sure it won't be new or large, but as far as build quality goes, no compromises have to be made.
What is an Ocean Cruiser
Stability is important. Waves get bigger out there, and some coastal cruisers may not be prepared for that.
Storage and long term comfort. An ocean cruiser needs to accommodate you for more than a week, as island hoppers do. That means enough storage and layout such that allows for a long term stay.
The matter of buoyancy calls for attention too - you want to be able to load the boat with all you need for a few weeks' stay and still have it perform well.
We made sure that all the boats mentioned below tick the right bluewater boxes.
Let's get into it, shall we?
The name of the game here is good quality. Which is an incredibly important aspect for a beginner. They say long passages are often more about maintenance than about actual sailing skills. And you want to do as little maintenance as possible.
As far as construction ethics of production boats go, Sabre 28 is hard to beat. All the elements that need to hold something, like cleats, are backed by a solid steel plate here, bolted through, there is no exposed fiberglass, everything is gel coated… it isn't an exaggeration to claim you will not find many production boats of this build quality.
Below the deck, you will find solid six feet of headroom, closed off V berth in the front cabin, and space for (theoretically) four more of your mates.
Now let's see some negatives. Even despite the generous sailing area of this boat, performance is its possible downside. You won't break speed records. This means that your longer passages will require better planning and more supplies. Not a problem per se, but something to keep in mind.
Also, this boat was designed as a coastal cruiser and it shows. Not that it couldn't undertake a proper ocean passage, but purely practically speaking, for instance, its tanks are rather small, as the designers expected frequent refills.
On that note - pleasure cruisers often favor the cockpit space, decreasing the under the dock space. They also don't necessarily try to use the space with the utmost efficiency in mind. And since long crossings will require long stays, you will feel this isn't a huge boat.
But all in all, expect a boat solid on all sides, and jaw-droppingly well built. It will set you back as little as $3 000 and as much as $30 000 on the other side of the spectrum. With a below $25 000 budget, you will have absolutely no issues finding one.
And if you start comparing with similar models and can't help but feel it is a bit pricier per foot, know that this is due to the extraordinary build quality. You will get a lot for your money.
Cape Dory 28
We will talk about the 28 model but if you go two feet up in size to the Cape Dory 30, you will be able to get it for about the same price.
Just as the Sabre above, Cape Dory is solidly built. It is simple, robust, no cut corners, no little luxuries, straight to the point. Which is what you want from a reliable boat, if you don't have much experience.
Another mark up goes for sturdiness stemming from its full keel. As is the case with full keels, they make the boat robust, if you run aground, it isn't such a big deal as you are less likely going to damage the boat, and the propeller is better protected.
Similarly, if the weather gets tricky, full keels are more stable, they track better and thus handle easier, all of which is a big plus for someone who is just learning the ropes.
Below the deck, you will find a V berth, heads, sink, plenty of storage space, and generally as much space as you would expect from a boat this size. It's a looker, genuinely nice place to be at, both outside and inside.
A word of warning that keeps popping up - owners of the older models say the fuel tanks don't age well on this boat. They tend to rust, so be sure to check that out and be ready for a replacement.
There were quite a lot of these models built during its production lifespan, which means there is no shortage of used Dories - something that drives the price down and makes this boat start at around $10 000 on average. The most expensive ones are generally around $30 000, so if you spend the $25 000 on it, you will not be far away from the top of the line.
Long story short, this is a cute little boat that will most definitely have your back and is quite forgiving when under sail - partially to its full keel. It won't house many people, I wouldn't go on it with more than two, if the passage is long, but how big of a crew do you need anyway, right?
We are stretching the limit with this one since the prices start a bit above $20 000 and go easily to $50 000. So with our limit, you will not have an incredible array of options - but it will be enough to get you in the game, and what a game this is!
First of all, it's a full keel, so expect all the benefits listed in the Cape Dory above. Second of all, it's a nice looking boat that has a cozy feeling inside and outside. This is important since it isn't the fastest one. Especially in lower winds, it has been described by some owners as a 'wet snail'.
So go for this one if you are a person in no rush, but one for whom the journey is the destination, as the cliché goes. And as mentioned before, pay attention to the higher amount of supplies you will inevitably need for longer passages.
Once you are on it, prepared to take it slow and comfy, it will warm your heart. The interior is lined with hardwood, pretty little round windows with cast bronze rims, wide hull that has space and comfort in mind, rather than racing.
In other words, it's a pleasure cruiser, but not a coastal one, rather one sturdy enough to circumnavigate the world.
It was born from a genuine market need since it's larger and older sister, Westsail 32, was quite successful but too expensive for many. The manufacturers listened and thought the 28 into existence, describing it as a “hearty little offshore cruiser”.
After this boat was rolled out, about a tonne was added to the ballast, the rudder was enlarged, and to make up for the extra weight, nearly a hundred square feet of sails were added. This happened after about seven models were released, so you can see that it was a work in progress to the last moments.
What this tells you is that it is no engineering miracle, but a boat that listened to people and was made for them. Which resulted in something that won't win races, but will win hearts. I should sell that as a slogan.
This boat has fiberglass molded wine bottles. That tells you all you need to know about this french boat. And it can be yours for as little as $7 000.
Dufour 29 stood at the forefront of European racer-cruisers, it contributed to paving the way for this particular class. It's a beamy boat, so you will get more space than you would expect. And it has a front cabin only, which allows for quite a lot of space back - the cockpit lockers are immense.
The storage space is one of its largest strengths, which helps with longer passages. Since it probably won't be more than two or so people, you can bring as much as your heart desires.
The downside is that although this boat is built to last and the quality shows, it usually features Volvo engines, which means pricey parts. So although the upfront cost isn't necessarily large, the engine will inevitably break with usage and need significant investment.
A nice thing is that although we are talking about a French brand, most of these specific models were exported to the US, so if you live out there, you won't be hard-pressed to find one. And you will stand out from all the Catalinas.
And last but absolutely not least, here is this little hero. We have mentioned it in our article 'The Cheapest, Smallest Boat to Sail Around the World' and the title alone should tell you why it deserves to be here.
You can get it for as little as $3 000 and I'm not talking about a worn-down one that needs months of work before being sailable - I mean a fully functioning one. The most expensive one I saw was for $7 000 and it was so polished and kept up it was a joy just to look at it.
Aside from the price, it's benefit is in the way it's built. It knows it is a small boat and it is on a mission to squeeze as much from the space as possible. It doesn't waste space on being a weekend cruiser but intends to serve as a liveaboard, or at least a boat capable of housing its sailor for weeks on end.
This means you will get a toilet, proper dining table, space for two people (comfort) or four (if you really like each other), and storage space for a circumnavigation.
As is the case usually, it doesn't come without its drawbacks, be it an engine that has a habit of choking itself or mast fitting that tends to give up on life if stressed. But trust me that if you invest in a top of the line model and spend a couple of thousand on refitting and tinkering with everything you can think of, you will end up with a boat cheaper than most of the above and in a bulletproof condition.
So you see it isn't out of reach for the average Joe to get into sailing. Both when it comes to price or skills. So if the idea has been dormant in your head, wake it up. You'll thank yourself.
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